A Church of Scotland body claims that Scottish public life would benefit if congregational conflict could be overcome and admits that churches need to become part of the solution rather than the problem when it comes to angry disputes.
Following initial discussions on how to resolve conflict in congregations, the major Presbyterian denomination's Ministries Council says a far wider vision has started to emerge as to how men and women may address their own inner conflicts as well as those which affect their common life and that of their communities.
The Council’s report to the General Assembly. due to meet from 21 to 27 May , states that if such a thing were to happen, this would be a “great gift” to the people of Scotland.
But it concedes that currently Christian communities can be places of dispute and anger rather than places of peacemaking and reconciliation.
One source of conflict within the Church of Scotland itself, is that of sexuality. This may come to a head at the Assembly over the credentials of an openly gay minister. But those working for inclusion within the Church hope that the differences can be resolved without rancour.
In a bid to reverse the trend toward conflict in church and society, the Council says it "intends to help both those in ministries as well as members of congregations deal more creatively and positively with their differences."
Themes of personality types, conduct of meetings, team training and healthy leadership styles will be discussed in-depth at a major four-day conference in Aviemore later this year.
It is hoped that over 400 people from a range of denominations and backgrounds will attend and that this will facilitate progress towards resolving conflict.
Currently, 15 per cent of the Council’s Candidate Training Programme for ministry is devoted to covering this area, with further sessions when candidates are on probation.
Last year’s Ministries Council report said “the real victim of so much congregational conflict is the communication of the Gospel itself”.
Elsewhere in Britain, substantial experience has been built up in handling congregational conflict and in the wider transformation of conflict. There was an ecumenical gathering on the theme two years ago. The United Reformed Church has also been working on the issue.
One of the most experienced bodies in the area is Bridge Builders, based at the London Mennonite Centre. It draws on peace church and other resources from the USA and Europe in its programme of training, consultancy and promotion of positive approaches to conflict transformation.
Bridge Builders, along with Ekklesia, is part of the 'Root and Branch' network of Anabaptist-influenced organisations in the UK. More information here: http://www.menno.org.uk/bridgebuilders